“Everything works out if your intentions are pure”, says Pallavi Patel played brilliantly by Madhuri Dixit at the start of Maja Ma. And boy, the movie, released on Amazon Prime, indeed espouses the same thought throughout.
Pallavi Patel is your next-door middle-class (of course of Bollywood standards) housewife for whom her family means everything. She and her husband Manohar (Gajraj Rao) are getting ready to welcome their NRI samdhis who believe in truth only when validated by a lie detector test. Her son Tejas (Ritiwik Bhowmik) has already gone through one. Her daughter Srishti Shrivastav (Tara Patel) is into a long-distance marriage and is an LGBT activist.
Hell breaks loose on this seemingly perfect family when it is discovered that Pallavi, who is the ideal wife, a doting mother, the ideal neighbourhood aunty, is a lesbian.
Everyone reacts according to their understanding of the issue. Basically, all the reactions are on expected, hypocritical lines. The family is subjected to societal stigma. Pallavi does not find support from anyone except her daughter. The entire family relationship dynamics unravel. Worst, Pallavi is subjected to modern-day ‘agni pariksha’ – the lie detector test. (a ridiculous and horrendous idea, legal aspects apart).
But Maja Ma, written by Sumit Batheja, still works not only on the performance level but on many others. Basically, it’s the story and the idea of a closeted parent, a housewife, a mother that holds your attention. The idea was first explored in Arvind Swamy’s ‘Dear Dad’. Here, we have gone a step further and changed the gender and it is this change that makes all the difference.
It’s after a long time Madhuri gets a strong, multi-layered character to essay where there is a lot to emote and say. Needless to say, she does not disappoint even for a second. Casting deserves a special mention here as roping in someone like hardcore mainstream actor Madhuri to play a lesbian helps normalise the talk around the tabooed subject. She provides the necessary grace and dignity to the character of Pallavi.
Madhuri debuted on OTT with her Fame Game wherein she plays a mother who finds out that her son is gay. And she supports him. Now, it is reversed.
She drops her fake Gujarati accent early on in the movie. Her voice - sometimes quivering, sometimes sharp - her eyes and body language help us to understand Pallavi’s vulnerability and what she goes through when her best-kept secret tumbles out of the closet.
The strength of the 2-hour 14-minute long movie lies in the choice of the subject and the way it is treated by director Anand Tiwari. There are no awkward moments. In fact, some are even hilarious. He has kept the plot simple and strictly within the acceptable, sanskari confines of Bollywood world which is fast changing.
The journey which had started in 1996 with Deepa Mehta’s Fire has come a long way. Bollywood is finally showing signs of doing away with the caricature portrayal of LGBT characters and is depicting them as regular human beings. It’s no longer John Abraham and Abhishek Bachchan pretending to be gays in Dostana. Neither is it Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga.
Three decades back if path-breaking Fire showed the way, Maja Ma will further humanise the subject. However, a better back story for Pallavi and an unexpected climax were expected.
We are still eons away from Blue Is the Warmest Colour or Portrait of a Lady on Fire or even Weekend, but slowly and steadily Bollywood is coming out for sure.